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Compost Happens is a personal blog: part family, part garden, part crunchy green eco-writer. I'm Daisy, and I'm the groundskeeper here. I take care of family, garden, and coffee, when I'm not teaching and doing laundry.

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  • Thursday, September 30, 2010

    Where do you keep your foods in jars?

    Food In Jars, a canning blog, is one of my regular reads and go-to sources for information. A month ago (was it really almost a month ago?) blogger Marisa put up a post asking readers where they stored their goodies after canning them.

    I'm a beginning canner, so there aren't many cans on the shelf yet. The cupboard, like almost everything in our home, has a history.

    This gray cabinet resides in our basement along an inside wall. It has glass fronts on the main lower shelving, and solid doors on two smaller sections on top. When we found these in the basement, we presumed they had been part of the original kitchen or dining room, probably lining the walls. The previous homeowners, most likely practical and frugal sorts, had moved them downstairs rather than throw them in a dumpster.

    Last summer a young couple knocked at our door. Somewhat sheepishly, the woman told us she had lived here as a child and as long as she was in town, could she see the house again? Of course we invited them in. She described many changes beyond those we'd made, and told us that the gray cabinets had indeed sat in the small dining room, but they had lined up at a 90 degree angle from the wall at the bathroom door, making a sort of short hallway.

    Well, now they're in our basement, serving a good purpose. My canning supplies and the resulting jars are sitting behind the glass doors, looking delicious. I expect to fill the shelves a little more each year as I learn new skills and get more adventurous with the canner and food in jars.

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    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Sun-Lovin' Rat goes to the Polls

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    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Raspberry Applesauce

    This is a real recipe, not a pantry raid, not a garbage recipe. I'd picked up apples at the Farmers' Market - Macs to cook & Honeycrisp for my workday lunches - and we had 2 pints of raspberries, the last of the season. The raspberries were heading past their prime, and we needed to use them up.

    It's a great problem to face, to have fresh fruit that must be used up ASAP! I turned to my stash of cookbooks and found this raspberry applesauce in Food to Live By: the Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook.

    4 medium sized sweet-tart apples (I used MacIntosh), peeled and diced
    1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (mine were fresh and getting softer by the minute)
    1/2 cup sugar or more to taste (we found 1/2 cup to be just right)
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    ...and (you guessed it, I never perform exactly by the script) I added 1 teaspoon frozen orange zest just because I still had some in the freezer.

    1. Place the apples and 1 1/2 cup water in a large, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the apples are soft, about 15 minutes.
    2. Add the raspberries and sugar (and orange zest, if you live in my kitchen) and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are soft, about 5 minutes. Break up any remaining chunks of apple with the back of a wooden spoon. The applesauce should be thick.
    3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool slightly. Add the lemon juice. Taste the applesauce and add more sugar if necessary. If you are not planning to serve it immediately, transfer to a clean container and cover it. Serve warm, room temperature, or cool.

    I realize there are a few potentially confusing redundancies in the directions. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to a simmer? I brought the apples to a light boil and then immediately turned the heat down to a simmer.
    We also have the "simmer until apples are soft" followed by a second "cook...until the apples are soft." Use your own judgement, of course. I considered the first step done when I could pull out the peelings, the second when the chunks were almost gone.

    I did not peel my apples immediately, either; I cored and quartered them before cooking, then pulled out the peelings with a fork. (Hint, hint family, a food mill is on my wish list for Christmas or birthday! It would make chores like this easier. I might even share the resulting goodies.)

    This sauce is delicious. Even with end-of-season raspberries, it beats the heck out of any store-bought flavored applesauce. I predict this applesauce will become a regular on our table every August and September.

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    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Investing my blood, sweat, and tears in teaching

    "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." -- Winston Churchill

    Well, Mr. Churchill - may I call you Winston? - I have all that and more to offer my students and my coworkers. I have fifteen years of experience in public schools, more in private preschools and as a substitute teacher. I have undergraduate and graduate degrees. I have knowledge gained from myriad sources: classes, training sessions, professional institutes taught by experts in their fields. I have colleagues who help me apply that knowledge in useful and practical ways.

    And I have my own blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

    Have you ever been in an classroom in a 60-year-old brick building, with no air conditioning, with only two windows that open? Add 24 sweaty bodies after recess and you'll know sweat.
    Have you ever followed a child across a playground in muggy heat, a child who knows how to keep one step ahead, a child who has emotional issues so extreme you worry about getting too close lest he run out into the street or into the nearby wooded area known to be a repository of broken bottles and sometimes syringes with needles? Even without the hot weather, it was a sweaty situation.

    Student throws tantrum, shoves staff member.
    Student throws another tantrum, kicks aide.
    Student gets suspended for aggressive behavior.
    Student returns from suspension. Teacher monitors mood, tension, calls on all de-escalation training and years of experience to keep him calm - alone. Because no one, but no one, stops in to check on student when he returns to school after his suspensions.
    Feeling totally unsupported leads to tension, high blood pressure, and yes, tears.

    This I can do. If hard work could solve the problems of all my students, life would be easy. I'm working on grant letters and looking up books to fit the needs of my hardest working, most struggling readers.
    I'm also doing the research in advance on procedure for removing a dangerous student from class, even as I sincerely hope it won't be needed. Toil, perhaps unnecessary, but still toil.

    Does swelling count? Physical pain? I've been teaching on an unexplained and undiagnosed swollen ankle for two weeks. My doctor must understand teachers. She didn't recommend I take several days off to heal; she suggested I teach sitting down whenever possible. I keep teaching through the pain, not calling a substitute, because that's what we do.

    Winston, I know you made this statement in a time of a great world war. My battles are different. Instead of an enemy with bombs and troops, I fight poverty, apathy, budget cuts, and misinformation. In those battles I offer my knowledge, my experience, my continued professional connections, along with my blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

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    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Anecdotal Evidence that School has Started

    There is more laundry than usual.
    During breaks, especially summer, I spread out the laundry loads and don't have to depend on weekends to do it all. Not any more!

    There are books all over.
    Yes, that's a normal state of affairs in this house. However, the table next to my rocker now holds Lucy Calkins' A Guide to the Reading Workshop and two books I'm previewing for my classroom library. There's a pleasure book sitting on my bedside table; that's a must.

    I'm exhausted. The beginning of a new school year always brings extra tasks, extra stress. This usually subsides with time and then picks up again around parent-teacher conferences and progress report seasons. This year, with the additional challenges in reading instruction, I'm working every spare minute to plan effective lessons and find appropriate materials and books.

    I'm running out of coffee. Yikes! I'm making my own and bringing a thermos to school, determined to be both frugal and green by avoiding the drive-through expresso place. But I need to pick some up soon, or this refreshing beverage will be out of stock at home.

    Oh, by the way, if you were wondering what the family is eating for our NFL Regular Season challenge of "Eating the Opponents" - we chose Chicago style deep dish pizza. This is Monday night game, and Da Bears are 2-0 just like the Packers, so we might repeat this fine entree on Monday night. I think it'll be worth the sacrifice to eat the same meal twice. Really.


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    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Where the Cookbooks Are

    It's the economy. Or maybe it's due to the increasingly common food-borne illnesses like salmonella. More and more people are turning to buying locally and cooking from scratch. Where do they get their recipes? For many of today's cooks, the basics and the preserving tips skipped a generation. Our mothers (and occasionally our fathers) cooked from mixes and made convenience foods whenever they could. These frozen foods and boxed mixes made it easy for working parents to feed the family when they got home. For a long time, there was no desire to go back to the old ways of slow cooking, starting with the basic ingredients. Time-saving was time-saving, and thank goodness for that!

    That's how food blogger Drew came up with the name for his web site and blog How to Cook Like your Grandmother. Drew recently asked readers where we get our recipes and where we keep our cookbooks. You guessed it, readers. I grabbed my camera.

    The main batch of cookbooks, the ones I use most often, sit on an easily accessible shelf next to the kitchen. It's on the main drag in the home; you can tell by the keys/ change bowl in the center and my purse on the right.

    A second shelf of cookbooks takes up space inside the cupboard. It fills about half the shelf. My 13 by 9 pans, muffin pans, and cooling racks sit to the right. Below, well, you can see below! Slow cooker, mixer, immersion blender, coffee grinder.

    Now back to our main event: cookbooks and recipes. I also have a file on my laptop aptly named "Recipes." Subfolders include cookies, canning, and crock pot. There's a similar folder on the family desktop computer, the one I use very little these days. Between two of the cookbooks inside the cabinet are two old-time files -- manila file folders -- filled with printed recipes and inspirations cut from magazines and newspapers. Some day (some summer day, most likely) I'll make a project out of organizing them into a binder.

    I don't really cook like my grandmother. I cook like me. Only the future will tell how my daughter will cook, and so far she's doing quite well. I might even let her take a few favorites away to start her own cookbook collection. Maybe.

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    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    The Adventures of Sun-Loving Rat

    Hi, I'm Sun-lovin' Rat! I came from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada to visit Daisy and family. Any visit to the O-K Chorale (yes, I did mean to spell it that way! ) includes a road trip of some sort.

    On our way out of a medical appointment we stopped at the golden arches. Mmmm, fries. That huge Ronald guy was kind of scary, though.

    Next we drove a long, long way to drop off Amigo at the school for the blind. We got him there just in time for track practice. The Visitor tags were so cool I decided to wear mine all the way home.

    It was a beautiful day for a long drive; I think I napped a little. The seats in Chuck's Saturn are a nice gray color, just like Sun-Lovin' Rat!

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    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Healthy Choice steamed meals

    I'm all about fresh foods whenever possible, cooking them from scratch whenever we have time. When Mom Central offered a blog tour sponsored by Healthy Choice, it took a little thought before I signed up. I'm glad I did. In their new steamed meals, Healthy Choice worked hard to minimize the ingredient list and keep those ingredients identifiable to ordinary people like you and me. They created packaging to steam cook each meal, maintaining the quality of the frozen-fresh vegetables. No mushy cafeteria beans!

    Many of my teaching colleagues stock up on microwave meals for their school lunches. They'll pick out five at the store on Sunday, drop them in the lounge freezer on Monday, and continue on with their teaching week with no worries about lunches. These are really handy, and not just for teachers, I'm sure.

    Healthy Choice sent me two of their new Steamed meals to try: Rosemary Chicken and Sweet Potatoes & Garlic Shrimp. Here's a snatch from the back of the Rosemary Chicken box:

    "Steaming is one of the freshest ways to prepare food... it locks in fresh taste and unlocks the vibrant flavors and colors of quality ingredients." Agreed. The vegetables looked delicious and colorful; the "Eat the Rainbow" crowd would have approved. Cooked in the microwave under their special steam film, the meat and vegetables were cooked well, but not overdone. I followed the directions precisely (are you proud of me?) and even checked the temperature with a meat thermometer to make sure my slightly weaker microwave had cooked the meat through. The meal wasn't burn-your-tongue hot, though. That's a serious consideration when you have a lunch period like mine, with limited time to "cook" and eat before meetings and prep times begin.

    The back of the package also has nutrition information in a form that requires little thought. That's okay, folks; if you're calculating calories, exchanges, or Weight Watchers points, it's all there for you.

    My impression? Overwhelmingly positive. Microwave meals usually leave me unsatisfied, wanting to make a PBJ on the side. This one was delicious and satisfying. I could eat it for a school lunch and not worry about my stomach growling before the dismissal bell.

    I usually cook Rosemary Chicken by reaching outside the door for my herbs. But in the middle of winter when I'm hunting for good and easy lunch options, I'll look to Healthy Choice and steam it up for lunch. Before that happens, though, I'm going to try the shrimp option. It looks simply delicious, too.

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Healthy Choice and received samples of their new steaming entrées to facilitate my candid review. Mom Central also sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate. Healthy Choice has a Facebook page if you're interested in more information.

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    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    NFL Season: what do you cook?

    Game Day meals can be so much more than pizza or bratwurst. What's a bratwurst? If you're not from the Midwest, you probably don't want to know. It's kind of like really knowing the ingredients in sausage - a little too much information.

    Last week Chuck made his version of Philly Cheese steak on French bread. Our Green Bay Packers proceeded to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on their home turf for the first time in nigh on 50 seasons.

    This could become a tradition or even a superstition, if we're not careful. The second weekend of the NFL regular season, Gang Green and Gold lined up to play the Buffalo Bills. What to make? Buffalo burgers? No, Chuck isn't fond of bison meat. Buffalo chicken wings or nuggets? I'm not fond of nuggets, and Chuck didn't know what to do about the sauce. Well, that's never stopped us before, has it? Time to search the cookbooks and the Internet!

    Chuck bought our Buffalo wings this time, but I did a little research so we could make them next time.

    We found a Taste of Home recipe for chicken nuggets from scratch. I could handle these.

    Then I looked into one of my go-to cookbooks, 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store for a buffalo chicken recipe. She had a buffalo chicken sandwich, and it looked easy enough for a game day lunch!

    Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

    4 chicken breasts
    1/2 cup hot sauce
    2 Tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup flour
    1 teaspoon garlic salt
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    1/2 cup butter
    4 rolls (or hamburger buns)
    4 slices lettuce
    4 slices onion

    Combine flour, garlic salt and pepper. Coat chicken well in the flour mixture. Heat butter and hot sauce in a small pan on stove just until butter melts; turn heat to low, cover and keep warm on stove top. Heat oil in large skillet, and cook chicken breasts for approximately 15 minutes, turning once or twice until browned and cooked through. Drain chicken briefly, then immediately toss in buffalo sauce mixture and remove. Serve on rolls with lettuce and onion.

    In my house? On game day? Serve with tomatoes and cheese, of course!

    As for the hot sauce, I like to play it safe. I'm not a huge fan of spicy food, so I'd use a regular barbecue sauce. Chuck is still looking for something better. Let him know if you find something perfect for Buffalo Chicken.

    This is not a sponsored post. Kelly Donlea sent me the cookbook for a review last summer, and I continue to use it. You can find her web site and blog and even order her books here. And if you're wondering, The Packers beat the Bills, 34 - 7.

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    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Mad Science and Me

    I often tell my students that my favorite scientists are Bill Nye and Ms. Frizzle. They remind me that Ms. Frizzle isn't real, and I concede the point. If I try to tell them I want to be Ms. Frizzle when I grow up, they remind me that I AM grown up. Darn. But I do enjoy teaching science, and I hope my students absorb that enthusiasm.

    Mom Central began a blog tour reviewing Mad Science KNOW Magazine, and I said "Wow! This sounds like fun! Maybe they'll let me do it!" Mom Central said yes and will send a 6 month subscription, which includes 3 issues of this bi-monthly magazine. Readers, you know me. As soon as I browse each issue myself, it'll go straight to school, where the issue will probably live on a shelf for a few minutes before a student says, "Cool!" and brings it over to her desk for silent reading time.

    If you're interested in browsing, Mad Science KNOW Magazine has a free online issue. KNOW is geared toward ages 6-9, which fits my class nicely. My students are 9 and 10, but many are still struggling readers. A magazine like this, very graphic, with a slightly easier reading level than they're used to, will appeal to many in my class. Features include Know-It-All, a Q&A column; Experiments - this month features math and science in string art; and this month's title feature on Patterns and Shapes. I predict my students will enjoy the patterns and shapes articles and pictures, including photos. I'm happy to see patterns introduced in a unique way; students who recognize and understand patterns have an easier time learning and memorizing math facts and concepts.

    I'm going to set up the web site so that my students can browse it when we're in the lab. There are some fascinating videos that connect well to our curriculum and increase their motivation and enjoyment of science. When I'm in my role of Ms. Fourth Grade Science Teacher, that's what it's all about: science learning is so much stronger when it's fun.

    There is a companion magazine for older kids. It's called YES Mag, and it's aimed at ages 10-15. KNOW Magazine is just right for my students right now.

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Mad Science and received the products necessary to facilitate my review. In addition, I received a gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    These boys need books. Lots of books.

    I love teaching reading. Reading is the heart of learning. A child who can read has access to so many worlds, so much fascinating information, so many opportunities, so much fun.

    Every year my students span a wide range of reading levels. This year the range is wider than ever, and there are more struggling readers than ever, too. Seven children, all boys, who read at a first grade level.

    Fourth graders. Nine- and ten-year-olds who read like the little kids -- when they read at all.

    I can teach them, work with them every day. Sight words. Phonics. Structure. Basic punctuation and what it means. But in the meantime, they need to read on their own. And therein lies my challenge. I need to help them read, read a lot, and read often. To do that, I need to provide these boys books they can read and books they want to read. Something easy, outrageously easy, and yet something exciting and fun.

    I have the structure planned: each of these kiddos will have his own box of books at all times. The box will contain books they can read, books at their level, books that they'll read when it's time for them to read on their own. A literacy coach once told me that after students independently read 25 books at their level, they move themselves to the next level. These boys need to read. I know, I've already said that. 25 books will sound impossible to them, so I won't say it out loud. But I will provide books, and they will read, and read, and read.

    The only barrier is money. Oh, yeah, money. School budgets are already pared to the bone. To buy more books, first grade reading level but high-interest enough for a fourth grader, will take money. Stimulus funds? Spent well, but spent. Title I Reading funds? Put to good use, believe me. I'll be at a Title sponsored training tonight.

    Grants? Help me out. There's a local grant group, but they don't buy books. Bless their heart, they think there are enough books on the shelves, and no one needs more. Shudder. Are there really people who think this way?

    Now what? Readers, can you send me to a source for grant money for these kids? A source that will send the money, and soon, so I can buy books and get these guys reading now? Leave it in the comments or email me. Okaybyme at gmail dot com. Please. Let's give these boys a future. A reading future.

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    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Too many tomatoes? Never.

    It was a classic pantry raid. It started as Truck Tomatoes: tomatoes, diced and cored and peeled, sauteed in olive oil with a little garlic and thyme. Then in true Daisy form, I looked into the refrigerator and started adding random goodies. A little oregano. Peppers, green onions. A small handful of spinach, a little grated zucchini. Two cobs of (already cooked) sweet corn - I could have and probably should have left it at one. Simmered to pieces while I boiled up a little pasta, it was an aromatic sauce that promised to be delicious.

    Daughter looked at it with suspicion. "What's in it? The corn is a little overkill, isn't it?"
    Chuck looked at the stove and the wall and asked, "Who cooked here? A chimpanzee?"

    Okay, I admit it. I used a wee bit too much corn. I should have used the bigger pan. If I'd stopped at the basic recipe, the small skillet would have been okay.

    Despite their skepticism, they liked it. And yes, if you're wondering, I did clean the stove myself.

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    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Computer Crash - literally

    It was the second day of school. The bell rang, the kids started to come in.

    And then all hell broke loose.

    Remember The Cat in the Hat? "Then something went bump. How that bump made us jump!"

    This "bump" was more of a crash. I jumped. The first kid in the room jumped. The teachers across the hall jumped and ran in. My desk had collapsed. One leg fell off, tipping the entire desk, and everything, I do mean EVERYTHING slid to the floor.

    Everything: including the computer.

    Everything: including my coffee.

    A friend brought me a 16 oz. Pike's Place blend, my favorite, later in the morning. Helpdesk red flagged my request for repair, and the tech was out within a week. Don't tell the library media specialist; her printer didn't get fixed yet. I had first priority. I guess it pays to be nice to the I.T. people.

    The desk is fixed now, and I requisitioned a computer table to lighten the load. Call me paranoid, and you'll be right, but I'm not, repeat, NOT going through another crash like that. Nope.

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    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    What do you remember?

    Short pieces, memories from September 11, 2001

    Realizing that if Amigo could read the headline, it was big.

    Both kids, then high school sophomore and fourth grader, ran into the house from their school buses calling out "Mom, did you hear what happened?"

    My panic reaction of "fill the van with gas before prices jump!" only to find that the entire city had decided to do the same thing was a decision rapidly abandoned. I had half a tank, and in our normal driving habits, that would still last several weeks.

    Teachers gathered in the lounge not to talk (we were a friendly, social group), but to watch a TV we'd dragged in. We'd been called in during our first recess of the day, informed of the district decisions on how to handle the situation. School was in code yellow: not in lock-down, but extra security added. We were not allowed to tell our elementary students until the end of the day.

    Reactions varied, but life went on. Amigo and Chuck went to a Lions' Camp weekend for families the following weekend. Chuck was worn out from a week of crazy stress working at the TV station. He needed to get away from media for a few days.

    Every house in the neighborhood lit a candle on that Friday, an impromptu vigil spread by Internet communication. La Petite and a friend took their candles for a walk and saw our neighborhood cop with his bagpipes, playing Amazing Grace and pacing, marching a square around the corner.

    Five years later, I suggested a journal prompt to my students about their memories of the attack. They remembered nothing. Nothing. They'd been in first grade, six and seven years old, and no one in the class had any recollection of the day the United States found out we were no longer invincible: we were vulnerable to terrorism on our own soil.

    I remember the patriotism that followed and the sense of community that spread. But I also remember the knee-jerk reactions, including passing of a law misnamed the Patriot Act that only one senator actually read before voting.

    I remember a huge power outage, a blackout in New York City the following summer, when New Yorkers pulled together rather than looted each other.

    I remember a color coded warning system, advice to stock up on canned food, plastic, and duct tape in case of nuclear attack. Then we as a country calmed down and lived our lives again.

    I remember a neighbor, a Muslim woman, mother of four boys, being harassed and feeling scared to get out of her minivan to fill it with gas. She is still my neighbor, and her boys are now grown up. She and her family are wonderful people - one of her sons knows La Petite.

    I remember a vindictive and vocal minister of a very small church getting too much attention for a terrible, narrow minded act of collecting and planning to burn the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

    Wait: the last one just happened. Nine years ago we reacted to a tragedy by coming together.

    Readers, let's stay together.

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    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Lemongrass Adventures

    We were walking down Main Street on our usual trek through the Saturday Farmers' Market when Chuck said "Let's go back to the booth where we bought the peppers and carrots. She had lemongrass. I want to try it."

    I've described our family in Food Network terms: Chuck is more Iron Chef, while I'm more 30 Minute Meals. I'm all about finding a way to create a healthy meal quickly and easily, using local and/or fresh ingredients if possible. The Pantry Raid (Amigo would call it the Garbage Can Recipe) is my specialty. Look through the refrigerator and pantry, pull out a combination of good ingredients, and cook them. I make my way through the Farmers' Market almost like a grocery store trip: list in hand or in head, picking up basic staples or seasonal specialties I can cook, bake, freeze or can.

    Chuck, on the other hand, looks for adventure. He spots the freezer truck parked by the coffeehouse (I spot the coffeehouse, of course). The vendor has trucked in farm-raised alligator, shrimp, mahi-mahi, scallops, and a whole collection of meats and seafood (Amigo asks: is alligator surf or turf?). While I'm heading to the next truck for Wisconsin-grown bison meat, he'll pick up the alligator.

    Last Saturday he bought lemongrass, a traditional Asian ingredient. He'd overheard another shopper asking about it, mulled it over in his head, and decided to stop by on our way back to the car and buy a bunch of the long, green plant. The seller explained how to use it, and Chuck searched the Internet for more detail. He worked it into a soup and a stir-fry that night.

    Most of the 18-24 inch stalk is edible. The end bulb gets cut off (I believe it tastes bitter, but I didn't try it), and the blade operates like a bay leaf - add it to the liquid for flavor and pull it out before serving. There's a fibrous section near the bulb that can be peeled and pounded with a meat tenderizer for use in stir fries or soups or vegetable mixes. It was good, but we're not sure if it was worth the effort.

    I saw the term "very pungent" in several posts on this grassy herb. We learned that the bunch we bought downtown could last several months. We only needed one or two stalks per recipe. With that in mind, Chuck washed and cut the lemongrass to a size that would fit in a Ziploc freezer bag. We'll pull it out now and then for a deliciously exotic Pantry Raid or Garbage Can Recipe.

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    Wednesday, September 08, 2010

    Knitting Philosophy

    source unknown: seen on Plurk


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    Tuesday, September 07, 2010

    Tomato Salsa for Canning

    My new go-to book is Put 'Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton. I bought it myself; this is not a sponsored post or a review. I had a lot of tomatoes, but we had to buy the jalapeno peppers. Mine are not growing very quickly - or they're being eaten by the furry creatures that bounce through the yard. Maybe that's why the bunny was collapsed under the rain barrel? Never mind. Just kidding.

    Heirloom Tomato Salsa

    1 cup distilled vinegar
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 Tablespoon salt
    3 pounds heirloom tomatoes (any kind - or a combination of types)
    1/2 pound onions, diced
    1 cup chopped cilantro (optional; I used only 1/4 cup because mine was really potent)

    Bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil in a large nonreactive saucepan. Add the tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos, and return to a boil for 5 minutes. Add the cilantro and remove from the heat.

    To preserve:
    Either refrigerate (for up to 5 days) or use the hot-water method.
    For the boiling water method:
    Ladle into clean, hot, half-pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Release trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

    I made these Sunday night, but I didn't try the results yet. I'm a little concerned it might be too spicy; I used the full 2 jalapeno peppers. I guess I'll find out soon enough; daughter is home, and she likes spicy salsa.

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    Sunday, September 05, 2010

    Weekend Pajama Mama

    It could be a reality show. Really. It's the actuality on many weekends in my house.

    Accomplishments, worthy of air time;
    • Read the entire Sunday newspaper, including sorting the ads and reading the few that mattered.
    • Spent some quality time with a heating pad on my stiff and sore back.
    • Scaled the peak of Mount Washmore and began the descent. That is, finished the majority of the washing and drying and began folding and stashing the clean clothes.
    • Reclaimed the kitchen table. No easy task, this one: it was covered with canning supplies from making salsa last night, a crate of leftover tomatoes, papers from my school and Amigo's school, bases for two crockpots (the crocks were in the dishwasher and sink), professional membership applications awaiting my checkbook, cloth bags from yesterday's farmers' market, and more.
    • Filled and ran the dishwasher.
    • Took out and emptied full compost container.
    • Made breakfast, started coffee, dealt with the daily meds (including claritin and tylenol for the seasonal sinus headache).
    • Charged my cell phone.
    • Labeled and stored salsa made last night.
    • Handled two tedious but important school tasks (cut out felt pieces for white-board erasers, placed computer username/ password stickers on colored index cards) while watching The Muppets Take Manhattan. "Because you share a love so big, I now pronounce you frog and pig." Priceless.
    • Reclaimed recliner in bedroom, relieving it of its temporary status as repository for clean jeans and t-shirts.

    "Okay, Daisy," says the show's producer, "So what? A lot of working moms multi-task on weekend mornings. What's so big about this list?"

    "Well, darling," replies Daisy, "Did you see what's missing? All of this was accomplished in my pajamas."

    I can't wait to see what happens on the Labor Day episode.

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    Friday, September 03, 2010

    Distracted on Market Day

    It was an easy day at the Farmers' Market. We didn't buy much this time because we still had a lot in the kitchen and we were going to be busy for several days. The greenish pint containers were full; the berries were already in colanders in the sink when I took the picture. Do you notice something else, though - something that doesn't usually come home from the Farmers' Market?

    No, I didn't mean the apple pie. That's a special treat, but I meant the plastic bags.

    Yes. The bags. I was so distracted with the start of school that I forgot the bags. Here they are, right where I left them, waiting patiently to do their job.

    Where has my head been lately? Never mind. I know.

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    Thursday, September 02, 2010

    She needs to read.

    Every year about this time my blog changes tone slightly. I'm still eco-conscious, I'm still harvesting from the garden and cooking (and this year, canning) the produce. But as August ends and September approaches, Teacher Me moves to the forefront of my mind and my blog.

    I'm reading a new resource for teaching reading: Lucy Calkins' Units of Study in Teaching Reading. The first in the series is A Guide to the Reading Workshop. I'm reading along, and I keep stopping to contemplate. I think, "I should print out this quote to hang by my desk." Then I read a little more and think, "This might work for (insert child's name here). And then I begin thinking about specific children, former students, kids I've known, and how reading fit into their lives.

    One young woman (she'd seen too much in her short life to really be a young girl) was part of a rather transient family. "Korrie" had moved four times; I was her fourth classroom teacher in one school year. I noticed she's coming back to our school and rejoiced. She's a difficult student, one with many problem behaviors, and what she needs most is stability. She's coming back! The same building, same counselors, same rules and expectations, same core group of kids in her grade.

    Korrie liked to read. Admit it, she wouldn't, but once in a while it showed. She had a winning ticket in a prize drawing and she picked a book: a Junie B. Jones book. Easy to read, good quality writing. One day in a guided reading lesson, she admitted she'd read ahead - against advice. Then she looked down at her lap and muttered, "It's a really good book." I couldn't be mad. I couldn't help smiling, in fact. She tried to stop, but I caught her smiling back.

    When I realized this, I made it a goal to get books into her hands. When she lost two library books and didn't pay the fines, it broke my heart. Of all students, this one really needed the library. I called her dad. He sincerely cared about his daughter and wanted her to succeed in school. He paid for the lost books and promised to look for them. I promised he'd get a refund when (not if) the books turned up, even if it was a year later.

    Looking at my class' reading data showed another item: despite her stubborn attitude and frequent absences, Korrie had made a year's progress in reading. She was still slightly below grade level, but she was learning. She was progressing.

    Despite her chaotic life - an absent mother, frequent moves, very little money, difficulty making friends - this tense and angry ten-year-old could and did read.

    I'm making a note to myself: talk to her fifth grade teacher. Let him know that reading is key with Korrie. Maybe, just maybe, we can help her be a child again - through reading.

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